Having just celebrated the grand feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I would like to recount in her honor a little bit about the apostolate of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) in her beloved country of Mexico. It all began when the English-speaking seminary of the FSSP was founded. Providentially — and seemingly without much discussion about it — Our Lady of Guadalupe was proposed as the titular patroness. As you may or may not know, Our Lady of Guadalupe is not only the Patroness of Mexico, but the Empress of the Americas. Now I see more clearly Her plan to extend anew the sacred tradition of the Church throughout North, Central, and South America.
When I entered the seminary in 2001, I met my future confrere, Fr. Kenneth Fryar, who had lived in Mexico City for many years prior, attempting to found a traditional order of Franciscans Friars. As it was not in God´s providence to start the order at that time, he decided to join the FSSP, with which he was studying. Aware that he knew how to navigate through a country with a different manner of driving, I proposed that we go on a pilgrimage as a small group to visit our Patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico City. And so, we took off from Nebraska in his car during Christmas break of 2002-2003.
I still remember when, after sleeping for the last leg of the journey, I awoke just when we had arrived at her shrine. Immediately I was impressed by the endless flow of people in pilgrimage to see her miraculous image. It is in fact the most visited shrine in all the world, even more visited than Our Lady of Lourdes. On any given day of the year, you will see a constant flow of pilgrims approaching the basilica where her miraculous image is kept. I was also impressed by the public manifestation of Catholicism, as I even saw taxi drivers there with their new taxis adorned with religious images to be consecrated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. This was really the first time I had seen a culture which so publicly and universally expresses Catholicism, but it would not be the last.
As we entered and prayed before the miraculous image, I was struck by how an image almost 500 years old has not disintegrated in any way. How it did not appear painted, but rather seemed to float on the tilma made of a cactus fiber which should have begun to break down in just a few years’ time.
There we entrusted to her our prayers and petitions. Little did I know it would be the beginning of an invitation to come live and work in her country to accomplish the same purpose which She had requested in her apparition to St. Juan Diego five centuries earlier: namely, to build a church where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Traditional Roman Mass mind you, would be offered.
During our pilgrimage, we spent a few days in Mexico City and proceeded to visit Puebla, Morelia, Guadalajara and many other cities. In every place I was impressed to see the public expression of the faith made by the Mexican people, to see what still remains of Christendom in that nation in spite of so many bloody masonic persecutions. The Mexicans I met along my journey exuded a friendly and welcoming spirit, such that it made them seem like one big family, inasmuch as they all shared the same Catholic faith. If my God is your God then mi casa es tu casa. Likewise, the churches were generally filled with the faithful — even at times outside of Mass — with many visitors praying on their knees before the Blessed Sacrament and before the many beautiful crucifixes and statues. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that no one received Holy Communion in the hand, and that in general their Catholic hearts still retained a very traditional sense of devotion. Even then, I thought that it would be very fertile ground to reintroduce the Traditional Latin Mass.
I also cannot fail to mention that thanks to the very typical Mexican hospitality of a family we met in Guadalajara who welcomed me to come to their home whenever I wished, I decided I would return when I could to learn the language and to come to understand more about the rich treasure of their Catholic history and culture.
It was during such a summer visit that a priest chaplain of our Fraternity and I went to visit the Cardinal Archbishop, who, upon of hearing of our work, immediately extended an invitation to the FSSP to come and begin an apostolate in the Archdiocese of Guadalajara.
And so it came to pass that two years later in 2008, when I was ordained a priest, I was chosen and sent to start the first apostolate in Mexico together with another, more experienced FSSP priest from Germany.
As those of you who remember the reintroduction of the Traditional Latin Mass in the United States can well imagine, the beginning of our apostolate in Mexico was at times difficult. We had to build a reputation from scratch. Here we were, two foreign priests, standing out even further as some of the very few priests in that country who wore cassocks in public. We did this in a place where the only connotation of the Latin Mass was that it was the “Lefevbrist” Mass, which in the minds of the people had been “forbidden” and was therefore no longer Catholic. Despite over 25 years of work from Ecclesia Dei, and the recent motu propio letter of Pope Benedict XVI restoring the rights of the Traditional Mass, Summorum Pontificum, we still encountered a good bit of ignorance and, therefore, resistance.
The same priest who was very kind in handing over to us the church where he had been stationed for our use then presented us to the deanery as the “Lefevbrist priests” who were going to replace him. On another occasion, we were invited to say a traditional wedding Mass in another diocesan church. An elderly priest came into the sacristy, and seeing the biretta and altar cards, asked one of our (rather witty) acolytes if we were Lefevbrists. The acolyte replied, “No, Father.”
“But,” responded the priest, “you say the Lefevbrist Mass.”
To which our acolyte asked, “Father, when were you ordained?”
“1957,” he replied.
“Then you said the Mass in Latin as well, correct?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“So then, you were a Lefevbrist as well?”
“No,” he said. “We were Catholics.”
Anecdotes such as these are demonstrative of the mindset we’ve sometimes faced in the years we’ve grown our apostolate, and the challenges it can present. Still, I must say that there was never any real trouble with the faithful who came to the traditional Mass for the first time, as the Mexicans are well noted for their docile respect toward the clergy. I remember one lady in particular, who, after attending the Latin Mass every day for a month remarked, “I don’t know why it is in Latin, or why the priest is facing the other way, but I just sense that that is the way it is supposed to be.”
And so, slowly but steadily we began to build up a good reputation. People realized that the Traditional Mass was back, and we began to attract those devout people looking for the lost sense of reverence that their hearts — and souls — craved.
One family that assists at Mass daily came to speak to us after the first time they attended a beautiful sung Mass: “Can it really be like this every day?” Another gentleman who was always told by his friends that he had a “tridentinte” sense of the faith (although he was born after the liturgical changes and had never known the Traditional Mass) came to our church one day distraught. He told us that they were attempting to give Holy Communion in the hand at the diocesan churches, under the pretext of avoiding the spread of a flu virus. As he could not bring himself to do such a thing, he was told that he could still receive Our Lord on the tongue in the church of the FSSP. The first time he came in, seeing the priests in cassocks and the traditional setup of the altar, he began to weep. He has been our faithful parishoner ever since, and now helps us train our altar boys.
After a few years of faithful service, the Cardinal Archbishop erected our apostolate as a personal quasi-parish, entrusting to us an historic church downtown, dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar – the Mother of the whole Spanish world. Our Lady of the Pillar is so known after having visited St. James in Spain, whilst she was still alive on earth, there planting a Pillar and promising the conversion of that land, and via that land the conversion of Spanish America, which the very devout tertiary Franciscan, Christopher Columbus, discovered on her feast day, the 12th of October.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is also a sign of the providential connection between Spain and New Spain, given that the title Guadalupe was already given to a statue, believed to be fashioned by St. Luke the Evangelist, and then donated by St. Gregory the Great to the Bishop of Seville, Spain, and hidden during the Mohammedan persecution. When it was rediscovered Our Lady of Guadalupe became an important patroness in the reconquest of Spain against the evil Mohammedans. She then reappeared under a different form in New Spain, realizing the new conquest of pagan Mexico to the religion of Christ our King.
In short, I have always felt and palpably sensed that we are under Our Lady’s special maternal watch, guiding the reconquest, we pray, of Her land. It is my hope that we will play a part, too, in the reconquest of all the Spanish-speaking world.
This year, we have received the great blessing to be able purchase, with the help of a loan, a new house which will have room to receive Spanish speaking candidates from all over the Americas, and will God willing, become one day a future Spanish speaking seminary for the FSSP.
We were also blessed to be able to open up a new apostolate in Mexico City last year in the historic church of the Immaculate Conception.
There are so many stories to tell. In short, we hope that our humble beginnings under the providential guidance of the Virgin most humble will some day bear great fruit, to crush the head of the infernal dragon and bring about the triumph of her divine Son.
Non fecit taliter omni nationi – “He hath not done thus with any other nation.”
Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!
Fr. Jonathan Romanoski is a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. He was ordained in 2008, and has served their apostolate in Guadalajara, Mexico for six years.